There has been an increase of almost 300% in claims for the universal credit benefit in Northern Ireland, Stormont has heard.
Communities minister Deirdre Hargey also revealed a 110% rise in claims for jobseeker’s allowance since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
She gave the figures while addressing the Assembly shortly after figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency indicated that unemployment in the region rose by almost 90% in April.
Ms Hargey said staff in her department have been working hard to process applications, adding that 99.3% of payments were made within the allotted time.
“That equates to around 71,000 applicants for universal credit with an average of 7,900 claims per week,” she told a sitting of the Stormont Assembly.
“Staff have been working extremely hard and we have 140,294 payments on time – according to data between March 16 to May 14 – representing around 99.3% of all payments due by then.”
Ms Hargey said her department has suspended the “recovery of benefit over payments” as well as “loan repayments from a number of social security payments” for three months.
She said this was aimed at providing “financial easement to people with benefit over payment related debt” or an outstanding loan balance.